Cornbread Stuffing and the Process of Holiness
How does something become holy? Cyndy and I are going to New York for Thanksgiving to visit my son, Sam, and his girlfriend, Iris. This will be, for them, their first-time hosting Thanksgiving in their new apartment! Needless to say, they are super excited, and a bit nervous. They’ve never done Thanksgiving! Iris, Sam’s girlfriend, is originally from China. She knows nothing about the North American tradition of Thanksgiving! And so, when I asked her what kind of stuffing she was going to make, she looked at me funny and said: “Stuffing, what’s that?” I replied, “You know…dressing?” She still had no clue. And so, Cyndy, Sam, and I spent the next 15 minutes trying to describe stuffing! It was hilarious. In the end, she went on YouTube or Pinterest and did her own research. When we zoomed last, they both announced that the stuffing of choice was going to be “cornbread stuffing”! Then they looked at us and asked: “So do you have a go to recipe for cornbread stuffing?”
Cyndy and I looked at each other and then together said: “No! We’re not from the South, we’re from South Dakota! We make bread stuffing where we come from!” Ah, but then I remembered I am not alone. I’ve got a church to lean on! I remembered Becky and Jim Zimmerman were from North Carolina and the next Sunday, I pulled them aside after church and asked them about their go to stuffing recipe. The next morning, in my church mailbox was a copy of Becky’s go to cornbread stuffing along with her recipe for giblets gravy! We had hit the mother lode!
Stuffing is such an interesting concept. If you were to read the ingredients you wouldn’t think it would be delicious at all! And a lot of stuffing isn’t. Believe me, I’ve tasted quite a few varieties in my day! But sometimes, under the guidance of a lineage of great cooks, a great stuffing recipe is born! Indeed, in some families, that stuffing becomes holy—a sacred gift to the world—and they guard it with their lives!
Many of you may not know this but John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist church, was also interested in recipes! His interest wasn’t in stuffing, or English bread pudding. His interest was in how we make human lives holy. In his passion for finding “holiness” he started a “holiness” movement. In the process, he developed a strict regimen for how to try to live a “holy” life. But to be honest with you, it didn’t work. I think in later life he would have said he was trying too hard to make his life holy. Holiness, in his early days was too about him: it was too much about something “he did”. But what he learned through life experiences, some pretty rough ones, was that becoming “holy” wasn’t as much about him trying to climb the ladder up to God, but instead, letting God come down into his life. Making room for God to enter his life. And here’s the key: letting God shape and form him.
When John Wesley was trying to climb the ladder up to God it was almost as if he was the baker, mixing the flour together, kneading it, setting the timer to determine how long to let the dough rise and bake. But, later in his life he learned that a truly beautiful life (a holy life) happens when we let ourselves become the flour, when we let God knead us, mold and shape us, even bake us into something God wants us to be, not what we want us to be.
Now, listen, this doesn’t mean God doesn’t take our thoughts, hopes, and dreams into account. After all, God loves us! In fact, I kind of like to think of the “holiness process: the process in which God makes us beautiful and sacred” as more of a partnership between God and us. In fact, I think what God intends in this process is for us to bake with him---beside her!
One of the coolest parts of having my granddaughter Emerson over on Friday nights, is that Emerson loves to do projects, and she especially loves cooking. And so, Cyndy and I have been making bread and even pasta with Emerson! Let me tell you, this has been an absolute joy. And oh, the mess! No matter what we make, the process is what’s so fun! I must admit, though, that some of our creations have been a bit rough. If you want to ask Emerson about our cooking, don’t mention the first time we tried to make crab ravioli’s! Absolutely Awful! We all cheered when I scraped the whole pan into the garbage! Every once in a while, though, we hit the “magic” button and discover a result that is beautiful, delicious, and maybe even holy! But in truth, it’s the process that is holy!
When I think of the word “holiness”, I often get kind of an awkward tightness in my chest. I think of the Pilgrims refusing to let their children play on the sabbath. I think of people trying to be super clean…trying to remove all the “sin” from their lives. I think of people on a strict diet with absolutely no joy in their hearts, forcing themselves to get through this. But as I get older, I think about “holiness” differently. Holiness isn’t about being perfect. Holiness is embracing the process of letting God have all that we are, including the messiness. It’s about letting God into the “kitchen” of our hearts. And it’s there, in that kitchen, that we work out a more beautiful me and us…together. The goal isn’t cleanliness, the goal is a “beautiful” bake!
May each of us let God in on the process of our Thanksgiving feasts this holiday season, Pastor Brook